Mental Health Memo – Healthy communication: I can’t read your mind!

We’re all doing it – all day, every day, whether we want to or not, everyone is constantly communicating with each other. It helps each of us meet our needs as individuals. Although communication is a common yet important skill, healthy communication requires additional effort, time, and motivation. Here are tips to polish your communication skills for your daily and more challenging conversations.
• Pay attention to your current emotions and mood. Are you happy, sad, angry, confused? Identifying your own emotions will assist your explanation of your feelings. If this similar feeling returns in the future, there is an increased chance you will know how to respond and approach the challenge.
Be aware of both your verbal and nonverbal communication. Your facial expressions and body language are as important as the words coming out of your mouth.
• Hold a confident posture whether you are standing or sitting. Poor posture shows what you are trying to say does not mean much to you.
• Keep a calm tone of voice. No one wants to be yelled at. Your calm tone will encourage the person you are talking with to remain calm.
• Think before you speak. Once you say something, it has been said. There is no going back to remove what was said.
• Using “I feel” statements will communicate your needs. Simple statements such as “I feel upset” will tell the person you’re talking to how you currently feel. If this person is supportive in your life, they will take your information and start problem-solving with you. Supportive people in your life care about you and do not want to see you suffer emotionally or mentally.
• Actively listen to the person you are communicating with. This includes making appropriate eye contact (research cultural practices on the importance of eye contact/no eye contact), not interrupting the person speaking, and allowing them to clearly state their point before asking questions.
Stay away from blaming others. “You always do this. You make me so angry.” These statements are usually taken as an emotional attack and will make the person you are talking to become defensive and shut down in the conversation. Once someone has shut down and refuses to communicate, a solution is less likely to be found.
• Clearly express your need to move forward from the conversation. For example, “I need help with chores to keep the house clean” clearly states what this person wants out of the conversation. Unfortunately, people cannot read other’s minds. If the need is not clearly stated, the other person may not know how to respond.
• Be open to compromise. If you are trying to work through challenges with others, there will be times when you need to compromise to settle disagreements. Stay open-minded about what needs you are working to fulfill. Identifying how you may benefit healthily will strengthen your compromise.
It is important to note that verbal and electronic communication have similarities and differences. When communicating via text or email, there is a risk of misunderstanding the information and the individual receiving the message may interpret the tone differently than what was intended. If there are concerns that the information may be misunderstood or miscommunicated, or if communicating about a sensitive topic, it may be best to relay the information verbally or to follow up with the individual you are communicating with verbally to ensure they understand your message. This will also provide an opportunity for the receiving person to ask any clarifying questions.
Learn to accept the things you cannot change. Change is hard, but it will continue to happen. There are simply parts of life no one can change as much as they would like to. Good changes will come.
Although we as humans are in constant communication with one another, let us be mindful that there is always room to improve how we communicate with one another. It is important to note that practice makes perfect. Some of the hardest discussions people have are deeply connected to their emotions making it difficult to communicate. Find supportive people in your life that you can trust. Turn to a mental health professional if you need assistance because life presents tough challenges. Practice these healthy communication skills to feel heard and solve challenges. 

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